Meet the Mind Behind Barack Obama’s Online Persona
You’ve most definitely seen it by now. Michelle Obama, wearing a red-and-white checkered dress, stands with her back to the camera. Her arms are wrapped around her husband, the hints of a smile lingering on the edges of his lips. “Four more years,” reads the text, which was posted on the Obama campaign’s social media accounts around 11:15pm on election night‚ just as it became clear the president had won a second term.
The photo, taken by campaign photographer Scout Tufankjian just a few days into the job, pretty much won the internet: 816,000 retweets, the most likes ever on Facebook; thousands of reblogs on Tumblr. And yet it wasn’t chosen by the president’s press secretary, or even a senior-level operative, but by 31-year-old Laura Olin, a social media strategist who’d been up since 4am. For the first time since the campaign ended, she talked to Tumblr, in partnership with The Daily Beast, about what it’s like being the voice of the President — where millions of people, and a ravenous press, await your every grammatical error.
So how does it actually work, being the voice of the President? Who makes the decisions about what to post?
All of our decisions were made in-house — in Chicago, mostly — so we weren’t getting direct directives from the White House or anything. But we tried as much as possible to have voices for each account, so depending on the message — because we had all these channels — we had an appropriate place to put it. Obviously some stuff was sufficiently huge so that it went everywhere, but as much as possible we tried to tailor the message for the channel and the audience.
It must be daunting.
It was kind of terrifying, actually. My team ran the Barack Obama Twitter handle, which I think was probably most susceptible to really embarrassing and silly mistakes. We didn’t ever really have one, which I still can’t believe I pulled off.
Finally. The person behind the Obama campaign Tumblr is…my (now former) boss, Laura Olin. I probably don’t need to tell you that she is a genius, the likes of which I had never seen and may never see again at close range.
If she ever sees that, her eyes will roll back to the far extremes of her head, and she will release the “Jessi’s flair for the overwrought” sigh that I know intimately (and usually earned). But I am telling you anyway, because I am not exaggerating anything this time.
Even when it wasn’t easy, even when it was really hard, it was because it had to be the best. No small feat for mere mortals, but the ultimate version of “playing up.”